During the past month the top three teams in the Pacific Division have been three of the best in the entire NHL. Since December 8th the Vegas Golden Knights are tied with Pittsburgh for the most points, 23, followed by the San Jose Sharks with 22 and the Calgary Flames have the 6th most with 20. Suddenly the top three teams in the Pacific are first, second and third in the Western Conference. The Pacific is arguably better than the Central right now, and the Oilers, who are 25th in the league since December 8th with 11 points, will need to play much better than they did in Anaheim if they hope to keep pace with the Minnesota Wild for the final Wildcard spot. The Wild won 1-0 last night in Montreal play Boston tonight and currently have the final spot with 45 points two ahead of Edmonton.
The Sharks have scored 61 goals in the last month, most in the NHL, and the Oilers will need to be much more aware in the D zone tonight to avoid giving up seven to the Sharks like they did ten days ago.
1. I’d start Cam Talbot again. I don’t see any reason to even consider starting Mikko Koskinen after how well Talbot played on Sunday. He was excellent in Anaheim, especially early, and bailed out his team on numerous occasions. Wins are all that matters, and when your goalie stops the high quality scoring chances then the focus is more on the goalie than it is on the team defence allowing the great chances. The Ducks can’t finish. They have scored the second fewest goals in the NHL, but the San Jose Sharks can score. They have scored 150 goals compared to the Ducks 101. The Oilers can’t give up as many grade “A” chances tonight and expect to win.
2. I was asked if Talbot is playing better under Ken Hitchcock. In seven starts he has stopped 220 of 241 shots (.912sv%). He has made two relief appearances and stopped 28 of 29 in 83 minutes so his overall SV% is .915. So yes it is better than before. His SV% on the season is still only .899, but he has looked better. He still hasn’t found the consistency to reel off five or six consecutive solid starts, but I’m sure he and Ken Hitchcock are hoping he can build off of Sunday’s game in Anaheim. He looked confident, controlled and poised right from the first shot to the 39th. The Oilers will need him or Mikko Koskinen to steal a few games this month before Oscar Klefbom returns.
3. The goalless droughts of Tobias Rieder and Milan Lucic have been painful for the players, and fans, and what makes their slumps even more surprising is how rare they are across the NHL. Rieder is one of seven forwards without a goal in 29+ games played. Tom Pyatt (37), Juho Lammikko (36), Gabriel Bourque (34), Valeri Nichuskin (33), Tim Schaller and Brian Gibbons (32) are the others. Last season only one forward in the NHL played more than 30+ games and didn’t score a goal — Dominic Toninato played 37 games for the Avalanche and 31 games in the AHL. This season he has 5-7-12 in 26 AHL games.
4. Milan Lucic hasn’t scored since opening night. He is goalless in 40 games, which, not surprisingly, is the longest active drought among NHL forwards. However, he is one of four NHL forwards who have played 40+ games this year and only have one goal. Columbus teammates Riley Nash (40GP) and Alex Wennberg (41GP) along with the Maple Leafs’ Par Lindholm (41GP) join Lucic with only one goal. Last season four forwards played 40+ games and only scored one goal. Oscar Sundqvist played 42 games, Marcus Kruger and Cody McLeod played 48 games while Chris Thorburn played 50. Thorburn scored in his 45th game last year.
5. Lucic’s inability to score is unlike anything I’ve seen in NHL history. He had 191 goals in his first 765 games. But he only has two in his last 88. We have seen players regress as they age, but I’ve never seen anyone just stop scoring like he has. I can’t imagine how frustrated and disappointed he is. For the first ten years of his career he was used to scoring a goal once every four games. He has scored the 498th most goals in NHL history, but literally in a flash he went from scoring once every four games to once every 44.
6. In 2017 Connor McDavid led the NHL with 51 penalties drawn. That was 15 more than every player except Nikolai Ehlers (41) and Matthew Tkachuk (47). He had 100 points that season.
Last year McDavid produced 108 points, which suggests he was a better player than in 2017, yet he drew only 35 penalties, tied for sixth most. Tkachuk led the league last year with 42.
This season McDavid has 62 points, and he sits tied for 13th in drawn penalties at 17. McDavid point totals are going up, but his drawn penalties are down. It is a perplexing contrast.
7. There are more powerplays per team this year than in 2017, yet McDavid is on pace to draw 33% fewer penalties than he did two years ago. Alex Barkov leads the NHL with 27 minor penalties drawn followed by Nathan MacKinnon and David Pastrnak at 24. Barkov leads NHL forwards in TOI/game at 23:09. McDavid is second at 22:45, however, McDavid averages the most EV TOI at 18:45/game compared to Barkov’s 17:13. The vast majority of penalties are called at EV and McDavid is in those situations more than any NHL forward. Pastrnak draws 1.78 minor pen/60, while Barkov, and rookie phenom Elias Pettersson are at 1.75. MacKinnon is at 1.55. McDavid is 79th (among players who have played at least 25 games) at 1.09. Two years ago he was at 1.77 minor pen drawn/60. The only stat in his game that has dropped this significantly in two seasons is his MPD/60. It seems odd the most dangerous player in the league draws penalties at such a low rate compared to others. Alex Chiasson is second on the Oilers at 1.03 MPD/60. Does he carry the puck even half the same time as McDavid? Probably not.
8. The main reason why Ken Hitchcock won’t keep McDavid and Leon Draisaitl apart very much is production:
In 339 5×5 minutes without Draisaitl, he has 11 points.
In 389 5×5 minutes with Draisaitl, he has 24 points.
Even the best offensive player in the NHL needs to play with at least one gifted winger.
We could see Hithcock start the game with McDavid, Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on their own lines, but he will put 97/29 together at times, because the odds of them scoring together are significantly better than them playing apart.
9. The Oilers could get a bit of a break with Marc-Edouard Vlasic nursing a lower body injury. He didn’t play Saturday or last night against the Kings. Vlasic is one of the few defenders who manages excellent gap control against McDavid, and doesn’t seem to get overwhelmed by McDavid’s speed like most D-men do. If he is out that could be a big boost for the Oilers. The Sharks and Oilers are playing their third game in four nights, but the Sharks will be on the second half of back-to-back games.
10. Let’s talk about the ridiculous notion that Connor McDavid should ask for a trade.
Let me make this perfectly clear: I am in no way defending the Oilers organization. I think I’ve made it pretty clear how I feel about the poor job Peter Chiarelli has done to surround Connor McDavid with quality players. That is a separate issue. But this garbage about McDavid asking for a trade? Stop it. Just stop, especially if you are an Oilers fan.
Are we so damn soft as a society now that we are promoting running away from adversity? Toughen the hell up. McDavid made the playoffs in his second NHL season. He won a playoff round.
Mario Lemieux made the playoffs ONCE in his first six seasons. Once.
Joe Sakic — same thing. And Sakic never WON a playoff round until his eighth season.
Suggesting McDavid will ask for a trade means you think he is a quitter. I believe anyone who thinks he will ask for a trade because the Oilers are still a tire fire is a quitter themselves.
I respect Bruce Arthur a lot as a writer, but his assumption McDavid should ask for a trade, but won’t, is the ultimate low hanging fruit. Not to mention it is the ultimate slap in the face to Oilers fans. Basically, it is saying the team stinks so you fans should pay the price and see your best player leave town…again.
Well, no offence Bruce, but to quote the great Jason Strudwick, “sit down and drink your popcorn.”
I can understand why Easterners or others from outside Edmonton think McDavid should do it, but I think it is shameful for an Edmontonian to mention it. Be better. Be proud of your city. The Oilers are not Edmonton. They play in Edmonton, but they do not represent everything about Edmonton. Stop thinking it is okay for your best player to want to leave.
Demand more from the organization, rather than think McDavid would quit. He isn’t a quitter. He’s the most dangerous offensive player in the NHL. He didn’t get there by backing down from challenges.
Be frustrated at the Oilers management. Demand they do better. Get a better GM, but do not give in to the loser mentality that McDavid might demand a trade. Name the last young, elite player who asked for a trade simply because their team didn’t find instant success?
McDavid won’t be the first.
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Source: NHL, Official Game Page, 1/07/2019 – 7:00 am MST